diver-on-leather

Can you Wear a Leather Strap on a Dive Watch? Watch Rules Explained

Don’t wear leather on a diver. Don’t wear a bracelet with a suit. Don’t wear a watch at all with a tux. These are some of the pieces of “advice” or watch rules I see frequently on watch forums, Facebook groups, etc. There is no shortage of snobbery in the watch community. It extends to everything from brand snobbery to what the owner of a watch decides to pair his/her own watch with. Some of the most common rules on strap/watch/outfit combos I see are:

  • A dress watch should only be worn with a leather strap
  • A diver cannot be worn with a leather strap
  • Leather should not be worn in the summer
  • Besides a bracelet, a NATO strap is the only other strap to be worn on a diver
  • NEVER, under any circumstances wear a dive watch with a suit
  • If it is a black-tie event, don’t wear a watch
  • Your leather strap should always be the same color as your belt/shoes

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A lot of these seem to focus around the dive watch. I believe this is the case because it is one of the most common types of watches worn, possibly second to chronographs. I used my master investigative skills (Google) to see if I could find out the genesis of these rules. There are a lot of blog posts discussing these and similar rules, but I could not find anything that directly pointed a source document citing said rules. There does not appear to be a book or magazine article from the early 20th century that lays out these rules.

Break the Rules

As with most things of this nature, these rules were most likely handed down through word of mouth. At some point, a young man was getting dressed for his first black tie event and his older brother may have told him, “You can’t wear a watch with your tux, it’s rude.” I have no clue who would take offense to someone wearing a watch at an event like this, but maybe I am hanging out with the wrong (or right) crowd.

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Rules are meant to be broken. Wearing a watch is and will always be an outwardly reflection of your personality. There is a lot of thought, care and consideration that goes into purchasing a watch. The amount of examination we do when buying a watch is downright insane. In my opinion, for someone to say that we can’t use that same care to pair our watches with outfits and straps is ludicrous. There are those of us that obsess over the color of stitching on a leather strap for weeks before deciding that it will look great with the watch we want to put it on. You must wear what you love. Both the watch you love and everything that goes with it. If you want to wear a white faced, Roman numeral indice dress watch with a green perlon strap and jeans and a t-shirt – go for it.

It’s Probably More Common than You Think

This brings me to my final point on this matter. If that is you, wearing the crazy color strap with a watch “it shouldn’t be paired with” I guarantee no one has ever noticed. There may have been a time when a person wearing a watch was a statement. Those days are long gone. Watches are so common now and available at nearly every price point that they have become just part of an outfit. I have personally worn a dive watch on a bracelet with a suit to multiple weddings and I was not thrown out by the fashion police. No one noticed my watch the entire night. I have to all but shove a watch directly in someone’s face to get them to notice I am even wearing one.

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Don’t listen to the haters. That statement is true of many things in life, but especially with watches. You spent your money on a watch you love and you should be able to wear it however you want. It’s highly likely that someone telling you not to do something with your watch has done it themselves. If Drake can wear his $750,000 Richard Mille with sweatpants and a t-shirt to front row seats at a Clippers game, I’m fine wearing my Seiko diver with a leather strap to the office.

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  1. I came across this page because I was wondering about having a leather band on a dive watch when one is actually at sea, in the water. i suppose that (getting wet) would explain the “A diver cannot be worn with a leather strap” rule which is why i’m wondering why 200-meter WR-rated watches are even sold with leather bands (well, they’re actually nylon + leather band).

  2. Little off-topic, but could you give me some indication of where I might be able to find the leather strap with the blue stitching featured on the last pictured watch in the article? It looks just gorgeous.

  3. The rule against wearing a watch with evening wear (ie. white tie or black tie) is more than word of mouth, I’ve seen it published in more than one etiquette guide, most of them from the 50s (my mother was a Southern debutante, had both Amy Vanderbilt and Emily Post books from her teen years). It’s an old rule from the time that pocket watches were still almost as common as wrist watches. The reasoning behind the rule is that evening wear is only supposed to be worn at social functions, like balls, dinner parties, the opera, etc., when you weren’t working and didn’t need to be constantly checking the time. Having a watch on your wrist gave the impression that you might be concerned about the time and thus other matters outside the social event you were attending, which was seen as rude to your host and fellow guests. It was the early-mid 20th Century equivalent of setting your cell phone on the table while eating with other people, for fear you might miss a text. No watch with a tux seems an outdated rule to me for the 21st century, where I think an elegant dress watch looks fine. I’ve never heard the prohibition against wearing a bracelet with a suit, I always thought a bracelet could be just as “dressy” as a leather band. I don’t personally wear bracelets, it’s a comfort thing. I don’t really wear suits, either, but do wear sport coats a lot, and heck, I’ll wear a NATO strap with a sport coat and not think twice about it. Shoot, if you wanna wear a dive watch with a rubber band with a tux, I know some people will frown on it, but if you wanna play James Bond for the night, I say go for it.

    The rule against leather bands on divers, however, that’s a different issue for me, but as a SCUBA diver, sailor, and kayaker, I come at it from a different angle than a watch collector. Yes, leather and water are not friends. And yes, I know that probably most people who own divers don’t actually dive, but you wouldn’t put white wall tires on a Jeep Wrangler just because you never intended to take it offroad, would you? I have to think that part of the appeal of the form of the dive watch lies in the heritage of its function, of adventure in the ocean, Sean Connery scuba diving in Thunderball, Tom Selleck ocean swimming in Magnum, PI. Wouldn’t you want to celebrate that heritage? Normally when I see someone wearing a dive watch with a rubber strap, a bracelet, or even a NATO (though NATOs aren’t that great for actually diving), I think maybe they’re a fellow diver, if I notice at all. But a dive watch on a leather strap is almost always going to draw my attention, in a bad way, I immediately know that person is probably not a diver, and they look like a bit of a poseur to me. I know that might come across as harsh, but again, it’s from my background as an actual diver. I own my Seiko automatic diver with the Pepsi bezel because I actually dive with it, but I think if you’re looking for a rugged masculine look in a watch, there are other designs that are more versatile. I have a 90s-vintage Timex Expedition I’ve owned since college, it has a simple, functional, masculine look that I think is better because of its simplicity, because it doesn’t have chronometers or a rotating bezel, I love its military heritage that extends back to World War II, and so it looks equally good with a distressed leather strap, an olive green NATO strap, or, if I’m feeling whimsical, a colorfully striped NATO strap.

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